Inside the Idol by Jason Quinn

Archaeologists love to find things from unknown civilizations.


The idol had been found during one of Professor Ulrich's Haitian digs. It was a joyous occasion for Dr. Peter Ulrich, but less so for the natives he had employed. He had paid them well, but the discovery of the small, obsidian idol was enough to cause them to flee in terror. It would seem native superstition was at an all time high that year.

I first heard of Peter Ulrich's discovery in a letter he had sent, apparently the same day his small expedition had uncovered it. It made me uneasy; the year was 1939 and the increasing bad news from Europe had become a major concern of mine. Dr. Ulrich's letter provided an excuse to think of other things for a time. To think of more disturbing things.

Peter had been a colleague of mine at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. We both studied metaphysical sociology and headed a committee of sociological study at the university. It had all been straight business with Ulrich until a few months ago when I found him beginning to take a more personal role in the studies we had been proposing. He had accompanied many graduate students on various archeological digs from Cairo to Helsinki, but the war had put an abrupt end to his work in that area of the globe.

By that time it did not matter. Ulrich had already abandoned the European sites and shifted his gaze elsewhere. He had apparently discovered some sort of arcane text which lead him to a small village in Haiti called Buelarea.

"It has to be there, Charles, it could have gone no further south than Buelarea!" His eyes were wide and the dim light of his office gave him a manic appearance.

We had been discussing the finding from his latest trip and his appearance had been the worst I'd ever seen. It seemed to me that he had become more and more obsessed with finding this arcane idol every time he returned from one of his digs, and I was beginning to worry about him.

Ulrich had first mentioned this strange artifact after returning from Italy. "There is evidence to suggest that it existed before recorded history and it may be the only connection humanity has with those unknown dark ages. The fact that it exists at all is a miracle and that it may be within our grasp remains the greatest opportunity we could have for extending the evolutionary chain." Ulrich was leaning across his desk now and breathing into my face. He believed that whatever the idol represented it somehow was linked with evolution. I pulled my glasses from my face and rubbed my eyes impatiently.

"That may be," I said. "But none of this can be proven. And in any case, you could end up traveling all the way to Haiti and not even finding it. What then? Do you seriously believe that you can take a group of New England students down there and finally discover this, this . . . so called idol? No one will give you the money to support it and the political situation in that country right now may even be worse than in Germany. It is more trouble than it is worth."

He stared at me for a short period, his bottom lip quivering, then he reached into one of the deep drawers of his desk and handed me two thick files. They landed on the desk with a loud thud.

"I do not expect you to believe me, Charles, despite all the documentation I've given you, but read the findings. See what I've already discovered and then realize what more there is to still be found.

"Read through these and then tell me if it is not worth pursuing." He pushed the files toward me. I picked them up and deposited them in my briefcase.

"Peter," I said. "Please do not do anything rash. Wait until I've looked through these and can speak with the members of the board. You will not be able to travel anywhere without their approval anyway, so please wait . . ."

"Nonsense! Do you expect me to wait around while you go through miles of red tape and bureaucratic stalling? Do you expect me to care what they say concerning my proposed excavation? You are mistaken, Charles. I refuse to wait around for anybody. I will employ the native villagers if I need to."

His gaze was stern and I could see that there would be no holding him back.

"Very well, then. I'll go through the material, but you must assure me that you will return with the research and you must swear that you will abandon the dig at once should anything go wrong while you are down there. Promise me that."

He smiled and nodded. "Agreed," and he took my hand in his. For the first time that evening a gentle expression entered his eyes and he was once again the colleague I knew. "You will understand once you have read the files. I cannot let it get away from me when I have come so close. I know where it is and it is within our grasp; it is such an opportunity. Don't worry about me. Everything shall be fine and, when I return, you will finally understand why I have been so possessed of this whole episode."

"All right. Take care, Peter."

He nodded at me once more. "Charles." Then I stepped out of his office and never saw my esteemed associate again.


I opened up the first file and immediately recognized it as the series of maps and guides which Dr. Ulrich and his students had drawn up. There were sites marked at the various digs he had been to and a number of notes scribbled on the maps as well. I recognized some of the places from our discussions, but others appeared to me for the first time. Ulrich had put more time and effort into this project than I had thought.

The second folder contained material which I had never seen before. There were copies of arcane lore and myths which emphasized the appearance of a small, black, carved statuette throughout history. There were no actual photos of the idol, but there had been a number of drawings which depicted a hideous creature. I can only describe it as a mixture of octopus, reptile, and bat. It had a vaguely anthropoid outline, covered in scales, but with an octopuslike head whose face was a mass of tentacles, large claws on hind and fore feet, and long wings behind.

There were other sketches of the creature surrounded by smaller beasts and what looked like men surrounding or praying to the thing. I noticed that some of these men, if that was what they actually were, seemed to have unusually broad features and were wearing headdresses which recalled those worn by South American natives. There were minor differences between each sketch, but it was easy to see that the artists were attempting to draw the same object. All emphasized the darkness which seemed to be inherent within the small idol.

I found myself becoming quite uncomfortable reading over the different myths concerning the idol, for there was mention of violent human sacrifice with each description. Being a professor of sociology, I was quite aware of the sacrificing practices used to bring good fortune directly from the gods within primitive societies. The belief had been popular with native Mexican and African cultures before spreading through Cuba and South America in the form of Santeria, Palo Mayombe, and other derivatives. There were many differences between all of these cultures though; human sacrifice had not been a contemporary phenomena for years.

The information surrounding this particular idol however, suggested that human sacrifice was still a current and necessary aspect of worship, for the last entry had been posted in 1923. The result of this sacrifice was not so much an appeasement to any particular gods, although there was particular mention of "Elder beings" and "Great Old Ones" throughout, but rather an emphasis on the act of murder alone. Not really a means to an end, as I had always understood it, but the end in and of itself. Many of these myths and writings struck me as a justification in rational terms of a hideous form of murder.

And this, this is what Peter Ulrich had traveled all the way to Haiti to recover?! It was nearly beyond my scope of understanding. Why could he possibly want to endanger his reputation and life over something which had, as far as I could tell, brought nothing but misery to any culture which possessed it?

It was then that I began to worry about what Ulrich might find down in Haiti.


I received a great number of letters and photos from Dr. Ulrich over the next three weeks. He hired a number of villagers to help him on this excavation and ended up paying them out of his own funds. His letters began in a pleasant, if somewhat driven, tone and after reading through them day after day, I came to the conclusion that my previous worry was ill-founded and everything would turn out well for him. His penmanship was always enthusiastic and there were even a few times when I regretted not accompanying him.

Although, I must admit, there were also many instances when I believed that his entire trip was all for nought. After reading those disturbing files, I had come to the conclusion that Ulrich was quite mistaken about the location of the idol and that his dig in Haiti would be a waste of time. But this did not upset me, quite the opposite really. I was glad that Ulrich was feeling good and I knew that failure in Buelarea would deal him a stunning blow, and after he returned to Arkham we could further discuss this thing which had been possessing him for so long.

That was my mindset the day I got his letter of discovery.

It was frantically written and I could sense his joy at having discovered what he had set out to find. My mouth went dry and my hands trembled as I read:

July 15th, 1939

Dear Charles,

The end of the quest is now! I have discovered the idol and it is now in my possession. We had been digging for eighteen hours and one of the natives found an oddly shaped container, a box buried at a set of crossroads near the division between our site and the forests which surround us. I was alerted and immediately spurned the cur away as to uncover the object myself. A panic erupted as I produced the box from the earth, but I had been expecting that, these primitives have been worrisome for days now.

It is the way it was described in the files, only less so. It gives one the impression of liquid made solid, blood made real . . . there is no doubt surrounding it. It is impenetrable and dark, the darkest thing I have ever seen. The darkest thing . . .

Forgive me. I am not making sense, but you will understand when you see it. I shall make arrangements to have it shipped back to the university as soon as possible and will join you there within the week. Take care.



I did not know what to feel. The description of the idol was odd, but what was I to expect? If it was true and Ulrich had found the idol which had been written about in those files, then I knew something essential had been discovered and that the field would change forever. Perhaps the entire course of history would have to be reexamined.

But if the myths contained even the slightest exaggeration of truth, then the discovery of this wretched object could mean something else, something terrible. It was a measuring act between my own curiousity of the thing and a sense of utter dread concerning its discovery. Should Ulrich actually bring this thing to the civilized world? I shuddered to think of its arrival.


I awaited the arrival of the idol but it never came. I did however, receive many more letters from Ulrich, the first of which appeared only two days after his letter of discovery.

July 17th, 1939

Dear Charles,

. . . I sat up with the idol all last night and the night before. I held it in my hands and just stared at it. Not much to look at, but it seems to have this strange hypnotic quality that is very difficult to break. It reminds one of eating flavoured ice crystals in the summer sun . . . I feel better when it is around. These childish comparisons do not do much I know, but you will know what I am talking about soon. I will be sending it soon . . .



Dear Charles,

I've had to put off sending the idol, but please be patient. There has been an uprising of the villagers here and it has delayed my plans. It is getting to the point where I may require the assistance of the authourities. Will let you know soon.



I sent him a letter of my own trying to convince him to leave immediately. I can only assume that it did not reach him, for it was never mentioned in any of his forthcoming letters. I became more concerned with each letter he wrote.

July 21st, 1939


Things have taken a turn for the worst here. I suffer constant harassment as well as threats in the village and have been hearing the most peculiar things during the night. It sounds like a dull mumbling from outside my window, but every time I get up to check, I find nothing out of the ordinary. I have heard the 'voodoo' drums before in the night and gotten quite use to them, but this is a much different, more earthy, yet not quite natural, sound.

I must admit that it has me a bit worried. I suspect that someone, perhaps one of the bloody locals, is trying to steal the idol. I suppose that the sooner I send it off, the better, but the whole episode is just so difficult . . . I have been simply lacking the energy these last few days. One can't sleep with those sounds in the night . . .




Something has happened and no matter how I wrack my brain, I can't figure it out. I have not been able to eat or sleep since hearing those infernal noises at night and this has taken its toll, and they just seem to get louder every night.

I sit in my room writing and every now and then I feel as if someone is watching me from the doorway. I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, but when I look up, there is no one there. This happens time and again and I can't seem to shake the feeling that I'm being watched.

July 23rd, 1939


Something has happened to me, Charles. I have been sitting up at nights with the idol, listening to the sounds and I can hear them get closer. I don't know what causes the infernal noise or how it can approach the room without my seeing it, but approach it DOES!

I found myself last night sitting with the idol in my hands, concentrating so intently upon the sound that for an instant I felt the idol move. I know that it sounds mad, but that is what I felt. The sound had increased until it was all I could hear and then the obsidian seemed to actually twitch in my hands! It sounds insane, I know, but you MUST believe me.

You were correct all along; it was a mistake to come here. I can see that now and I pray that it is not too late. Destroy the files I gave you and please attempt to stifle any interest the board may have of pursuing my study. Do not let them send anyone else down here to pick up the strands of my work. You must promise to do this for me . . .

Tomorrow I get rid of the thing. I will try to slip away and send it no matter what the natives have planned. My fear of the night has pushed me past being intimidated from their threatening glances and wide eyes. Legends be damned!


And that was the last letter I ever got from him.

There have been reports in the news of an American professor who was accidentally killed in Buelarea, the victim of a house-fire or some such thing. I'm convinced that this was Peter.

What alarms me more than the news that Peter may be dead is that I find myself wondering if he was able to send the idol off to the university. I have a secret hope that it was he who died in that fire and the idol perished with him.

But I'm afraid that this is probably not true.

I sit here deep in the night, writing this account and keeping my eye on the little slip of paper notifying me that a package has arrived in my box at the office.

The window is open slightly and the notification rocks gently on my desk, waiting for me to collect my package.

Lord. I'm frightened.

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© 1999 Edward P. Berglund
"Inside the Idol": © 1999 by Jason Quinn. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004